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Top 4 Things Motorists Need to Know about Bicycle Commuting

I began my summer of biking to work this past week (more on that in a future post), and I was quickly reminded how potentially dangerous it is to be a tiny, defenseless biker armed with only a helmet amidst a sea of huge, metal, four-wheeled machines powered by distracted drivers with the luxury of airbags.  And while I considered ranting about the fact that no one, pedestrian and driver alike, seems to greet bikers with open arms, I also realized that there persists a general lack of education around the rules and rights of the bicycle commuter.

First, allow me to offer this disclaimer: I have seen both very good and very bad examples of bikers and motorists behaving together on the road in my many commutes around the city over a number of years now, and my making this list does not mean I’m attributing all the bad to the motorists; far from it, in fact.  My only intention with this list is to help motorists by providing them with information they may not already know.

So without further ado, I interrupt my regularly-scheduled programming to bring you my list of the Top 4 Things Motorists Need to Know about Bicycle Commuting:

  1. Bicycle Hand Signals!  They are fairly straight forward – there are only three of them, and the fourth is an obvious alternative – and if all bikers actually used them on a regular basis I’m sure more motorists would recognize them for what they are:
  1. Bikers are allowed to bike in the middle of the lane of traffic (or “take the lane”) and in many ways that’s the safer choice.  Motorists may feel bikers are “in their way,” but when bikers ride on the far side of a narrow road or lane, they subject themselves to motorists who seem to think they can squeeze between the biker and the vehicle in the next lane without putting the biker in extreme danger.  Some lanes are safe enough for both bikers and vehicles to pass side-by-side but, sadly, in a sprawling city like Edmonton where bicycle commuting is definitely not the norm, these sorts of lanes are rare.
  2. A biker is not a pedestrian when he/she is waiting to turn left.  I understand this can be confusing to some motorists, since bikers become pedestrians when they are walking with their bikes and when they’re not moving it’s hard to tell their intentions; however, when a biker is standing in the middle of the road or intersection, he/she is clearly not a pedestrian in a crosswalk, so the absolute worst thing a driver can do is stop and treat them as such.  Would you, as a motorist, stop randomly to let any other vehicle cross left in front of you?  No, of course not.
  3. Bicycles on the road are considered motor vehicles whether the motorists like it or not (at least here in Canada).  I won’t get into how ridiculous this is (bicycles don’t even have motors!), but let’s just all acknowledge that this is the way it is, legally speaking.  This means that motorists need to acknowledge the very real danger that they pose to any bicycle on the road simply due to the differences in size, speed, and protection.  While a simple fender bender could mean a scratched paint job for the motorist, it could mean life or death for the biker.

For all motorists out there, please keep your eyes open as the fair-weather bicycle commuters come out of the woodwork and join you on the road.  And for all bikers, please remember that most motorists have no idea what it’s like to bike on the road, so do them a favour my making yourself visible and behaving in a predictable manner.  I hope we can all use the road safely this summer!

Here are some links to additional information if you feel so inclined:

http://bikesafety.caa.ca/cyclists/on-the-road/index.php

http://bicycledriving.org/public-awareness/motorists-should-know

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-lisa-fitzpatrick/city-biking-tips_b_3954800.html

http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/coexisting-with-bicyclists-10-rules-for-drivers.html

Have you ever commuted by bike?  If so, is there anything you’d add to this list?

S

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